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Fertilizer Overuse Reduced by Soil Health Cards

Indian farmers are being slowly nudged away from the dangerous practice, resulting in productivity gains, a study of the national soil-health-card scheme has shown, because they commonly overuse fertilisers in almost everything they grow.

According to the study involving 3,184 farmers across 199 villages in 16 states found that, growers who followed scientific recommendations based on their soil profile for at least a year, as part of a national programme, are not only growing more with less inputs, but they also have cut down cultivation costs.

Farmers planting cotton, paddy and soyabean — crops picked by the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in a study commissioned by the farm ministry — have managed to lower costs by 4-10%. They have also cut down on reliance on fertilisers. The study states that net farmer incomes grew between 30% and 40% as a result.

The soil health card programme, a high-priority scheme, aims to replenish seriously degraded soils from over-fertilised agriculture. According to farm minister Radha Mohan Singh, the government has distributed 100 million such cards, one to each farm household, and hopes to reach 20 million more in this year. Their soils need to be tested every two years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his monthly radio broadcast on November 27 last year, had set a target of reducing by half India’s annual urea consumption by 2022 through soil health cards.

The study revealed worrying degradation of soils across regions. It also said test results needed to be more promptly available to farmers and infrastructure ramped up for wider gains.

India heavily subsidises fertilisers, a policy initiated in the 1960s to kickstart the Green Revolution. Cheap availability has resulted in rampant use, particularly of urea, degrading soils to such an extent that yields have actually started to fall.


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